A Heartbeat Away

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Because the answers to these questions must inevitably be unsatisfactory, everything will continue to depend on the wisdom the presidential nominees show in making known their preferences for Vice President. Perhaps one day Americans will have the maturity to judge a prospective President in good measure by judging the running mate he has chosen. More often than most voters would guess offhand, in examining a national ticket they are studying not merely one but two future Presidents of the United States.

It seems frivolous, furthermore, that despite the stakes involved, no concerted national effort has yet been made to reduce the burden of disparagement the office of Vice President bears, even though its occupants are no longer nonentities. In a time of widespread affluence the Vice President still has no official residence; and in an era of incredibly complex national and international problems he has scarcely sufficient work to fill his day. He suffers also from the unavoidable fact that to millions he continues to appear to be only second best in the great game of politics.

Yet the lure of the Vice Presidency does not seem diminished, even for those who initially set their sights higher. George Mifflin Dallas may have said all that can even now be said in explanation. Writing around the year 1845, Dallas was trying to answer the question of why the Vice Presidency is a dignified place—almost as if he needed to convince himself. He found three reasons: “first, its’ [sic] incumbent is anointed by the national ballot-box, second, its’ action is manifested in the noblest of all deliberative bodies, the Senate of the US. and third, its’ accidency is the supreme executive.”

It is probably indecent even to guess how these separate elements have weighed in the thoughts of the thirty-seven men who have filled the Vice Presidency. But it may be instructive that only one man—Frank O. Lowden of Illinois, in 1924—ever rejected an actual nomination for the office. All the others were content to have a chance to sit—no, to wait—in the wings of history.